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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Contemporary Revolution—Evolution of Viola Repertoire

  • Author(s): Warmath, Jordan
  • Advisor(s): Koenig, Robert
  • et al.


The Contemporary Revolution—Evolution of Viola Repertoire


Jordan Warmath

Today, it is somewhat rare to attend a classical music concert be it a quartet performance, orchestral concert, or solo recital and have a contemporary or “new” work on the program. What was once common practice in Beethoven’s time must once again be embraced as common practice among performers if the viola repertoire and the classical genre are to flourish. It is simply no longer enough to have mastered the 20th century demands of the instrument as a performer but rather all its satellite components as well.

The contemporary violist bears little resemblance to a violist of the 19th century. Some 200 years ago, playing a viola meant being a performer of the “lesser” sibling to the violin. Today, etudes for the viola are detrimentally tilted toward the romantic, while the majority of the standard viola repertoire is decidedly contemporary. The standard etudes are largely antiquated transpositions of 18th century classicism whose application proves less helpful as the decades pass by. No longer do the tonalities of Ševčík, Kreutzer, and Mazas bear resemblance to the music they attempt to help facilitate. How does one rectify a pedagogy that has fallen so far behind in preparing its acolytes for the true challenges of its repertoire?

Part I of this document describes the current progression of pedagogical literature and technical studies at the intermediate level. This pedagogical progression is then augmented by the inclusion of contemporary literature and alternative etudes within the framework of the standard repertoire. Part II discusses the current advanced pedagogical progression and its standard accompanying etudes and technical studies. This advanced repertoire is explained further and altered to incorporate appropriately challenging contemporary literature. A new set of etudes composed in the last century will then be included to help the violist overcome the differing technical hurdles these pieces present. This part of the document will contain specific examples of contemporary pedagogical literature to highlight how a different progression of etudes, studies, scales, and repertoire can aid the student in attaining success in the landscape of a 21st century violist.

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